My father is a Muslim immigrant

Opinion: Columns

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter

By Ali Elsaffar

One View

My father is a Muslim immigrant from Iraq. I was raised by him and my mother, an American-born Christian, in the suburbs of Chicago. 

My mixed heritage makes President Trump's attitude toward Muslims very personal to me. As a candidate, Trump proposed a ban on Muslim immigration to the U.S. Since taking office, he has sought to impose a ban on Iraqi immigrants. 

Had either ban been in effect in the 1960s, my father, who taught college physics to thousands of American students, would not have been allowed into this country. My Dad's cousin, an Iraqi doctor who has treated countless Americans suffering from heart disease, would also have been banned. 

My father, his cousin, and millions of other Muslim immigrants have made important contributions to American society. We should not turn away people of the Muslim faith who would contribute to our country because some terrorists have adopted a twisted version of Islam. 

I support efforts to defend the U.S. against terrorism committed by Muslims, Iraqis, or anyone else. But we should not adopt policies that stereotype all Muslims or all Iraqis. Instead, we should protect this country in a way that is consistent with American values. 

America is a nation of immigrants. People from around the world have come to this country because of the promise that success in America is not based on one's race, religion or ethnicity, but rather on one's character and abilities. 

As a child, I dreamed of becoming an elected official. My dad worried that I might encounter bias because of my Arab name, but when I ran for this office, my community gave me a fair opportunity to present my candidacy, and ultimately elected me township assessor. Giving people a fair chance to achieve their dreams is what America is all about.

But fairness is missing in Donald Trump's approach to Muslims. Even though no Iraqi immigrant has ever carried out a terrorist attack in the U.S., Trump seeks to impose a 90-day ban on immigrants from Iraq and other Muslim countries. After 90 days, he plans to replace the effective system for vetting immigrants currently in place with "extreme vetting." 

I suspect the "extreme vetting" will be so onerous that it will operate as a ban.

President Trump justifies these new measures by noting that there are terrorists in Iraq and other Muslim countries. Although this is true, I would add that every religious, racial and national group has some members who resort to violence. Those same groups, however, also have members who demonstrate creativity, genius and love. The challenge for all human beings is to overcome the darker impulses that lurk within so that, as President Lincoln put it, "the better angels of our nature" can flourish. 

Terrorists have succumbed to the violent side of human nature and pose a serious threat. But in addressing the threat, America itself must not give in to dark impulses by scapegoating innocent people or assuming that only people with my father's religious and ethnic profile engage in terrorism and violence. 

People closer to my mother's profile — American and Christian — also engage in violence and terrorism. Timothy McVeigh killed 168 Americans in an Oklahoma City terrorist attack. And America has more violence that is not called terrorism: our murder rate is much higher than in Canada or Europe, and we have been plagued by mass shootings in schools, movie theaters, and elsewhere.

A foreign leader with an attitude similar to President Trump's might conclude that Americans are violent, and seek to restrict our visits to their countries. Putting all Americans under suspicion for the violent acts of a few would be unfair — but it is no more unfair than Donald Trump's attitude toward Muslims. 

The appropriate response to terrorism was demonstrated in Oklahoma City. We punished Timothy McVeigh and those who helped him carry out the attack. But we did not put innocent Americans under suspicion just because they were raised in the same religion as Timothy McVeigh or came from his home state. 

The capacity for good or evil is not limited to one group; it exists in all human beings. America's Declaration of Independence recognized this when it proclaimed that "all men are created equal." President Trump should heed the wisdom contained in America's founding document.

Ali ElSaffar is an attorney who has served as Oak Park Township Assessor since he was first elected in 2001.

Love the Journal?

Become our partner in independent community journalism

Thanks for turning to Wednesday Journal and We love our thousands of digital-only readers. Now though we're asking you to partner up in paying for our reporters and photographers who report this news. It had to happen, right?

On the plus side, we're giving you a simple way, and a better reason, to join in. We're now a non-profit -- Growing Community Media -- so your donation is tax deductible. And signing up for a monthly donation, or making a one-time donation, is fast and easy.

No threats from us. The news will be here. No paywalls or article countdowns. We're counting on an exquisite mix of civic enlightenment and mild shaming. Sort of like public radio.

Claim your bragging rights. Become a digital member.

Donate Now

Reader Comments

13 Comments - Add Your Comment

Note: This page requires you to login with Facebook to comment.

Comment Policy

Mike Hanline  

Posted: February 22nd, 2017 5:08 PM

Ok, so what's your point? Ban Islam in the United States?

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: February 22nd, 2017 1:10 PM

Yes and they were all muslims who may have used kitman to hide their true motives.

Mike Hanline  

Posted: February 22nd, 2017 1:02 PM

San Bernadino, the Orlando nightclub, Ft Hood: all three of these attacks were carried out by American-born citizens, so...

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: February 22nd, 2017 12:57 PM

@ Goode: Illinois and Chicago have probably the strictest gun control in the country.The Great Society took care of all the poverty in this country. The Illinois State Lottery funds all the school districts in this state.Everybody had some sort of medical coverage in this country prior to ACA, , plus The Shriners Hospital treat children for free as well as other charities. However, if certain groups enjoy throwing homosexuals off the roofs of tall buildings because they are homosexuals, if the leader of Iran promises to destroy Israel and the U.S. then it really doesn't matter who owns or does not own a gun, or who is poor, or who doesn't have an education. I have tried out of the box solutions. Maybe, I should find the family of a San Bernadino, The Orlando nightclub,or Ft, Hood shootings if they should not be concerned.

Christopher Goode  

Posted: February 22nd, 2017 9:57 AM

@Slowiak, If you really want to "stop going to funerals of dead American citizens who were killed because they breathe" you would be better off worrying about gun control, ending poverty and providing a high level of education including trades in both rural and urban America, supporting health care and affordable medicine that is available to all of our citizens evenly. I know it is not as simple or cheap as just telling folks they can't come here, but the results would be much more effective as these things are causing a vastly greater number of those "funerals".

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: February 21st, 2017 10:28 PM

@ Goode: Thank you for all those wonderful sentiments. Members of my family may just have been all those that you listed. You forgot to mention all the Polish jokes endured with patience and a smile.However, none of my relatives used a religious principle such as kitman to deny their god if they felt persecuted, in order to promote their god. As silly as it sounds, a confirmed Catholic was considered a soldier of Christ, and was expected to give up his life then renounce God. That's why I gave up being a Catholic, at age 12, that was a bit much. I liked the new bicycle I got. There is no blanket policy to deny any one country or religion, there is a temporary 90 to 120 day ban on entry of 7 out of 53 Muslim countries that were identified by President Obama as needing extra vetting. Will Rogers said, by land they aren't making it anymore. If we as a country wanted to preserve hope and change, develop the future of a down trodden country, say Iraq, why cant we pick up a chunk of land, put in sewers, fresh water, paved streets and maybe a Dairy Queen, guarantee the residents safety by U.S> Army and incubate a beautiful culture in their own country. You know, hope and change except from within. We di it post war Japan and Germany, as well as the Marshall Plan Eleanor Roosevelt tried it. Our fear of living alongside new people different than ourselves has almost invariably been misplaced. However going to funerals of dead American citizens who were killed because they breathe is not misplaced. Again, google Merkel and the question is, as alaways, how to maintain the balance. And who will pay for the balance with their life.

Christopher Goode  

Posted: February 21st, 2017 7:40 PM

So Mr. Slowiak, What country did your people come from? Pretty sure you are not Native American, so you must be from immigrant stock. My guess from your name is Eastern European, perhaps Polish or Czech, and, if so, the branch that shares your name probably came over some time between 1880 and now. And perhaps Catholic or Eastern Orthodox . All of the above were none too popular in the US at the turn of the twentieth century. Should the reactionaries of that time have been allowed to keep your family from coming to live in America because they were afraid of people who were different than themselves? They could use the excuse that they might have been Anarchists, or Marxists or criminals, or revolutionaries. Perhaps they could have taken part in some anti-government demonstrations against the homeland's monarchy or authoritarian government. But most who came were none of those things, and they have since made a real contribution to this country, as I am sure your family has, and that, I for one, am glad for. And I look forward to the contribution of those still seeking refuge here. Blanket denial of people from one country or one religion is not a test I can agree with. Our fear of living alongside new people different than ourselves has almost invariably been misplaced.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: February 20th, 2017 7:31 PM

You might want to google Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany. She opted to let 1.5 million Muslims immigrate into Germany and now she wants to pay them to get out of Germany. The question is how to maintain a balance.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: February 20th, 2017 5:28 PM

Re reread my post. The only word I will change is Islam on line 5 to Islamist. An Islamist, in my opinion, is a strict backer of Shuria Law, religious law being above any secular law.That is the same law used to execute homosexuals and other hateful acts. The first sentence is still in effect being 7 of the 53 Muslim countries are not effected by the temporary ban of waiting an extra 90 to 120 days. I find it very difficuly that Immigration officials assume that every applicant is not telling the truth. The Blind Sheik just passed away in Federal Custody where he was serving time for the first WTC bombing. I don't think anyone thought him to be a true believer in the Religion of Peace., If a person is an Islamist, or other religion or no religion why would they be allowed entry regardless of American Values, and yes being blind to color, race nationally, or religion but that has nothing to do with people want to destroy us for no other reason than we breathe. While people may deceive, do you know of another religion that has a principle of deception?

Kevin Brubaker  

Posted: February 20th, 2017 4:28 PM

Brian Slowiak seems to be arguing that since Muslims can lie about their faith, it is permissible to deny them the opportunity to enter the United States. That's ridiculous. First, no immigration official is assuming that every immigrant is telling the truth. Second, shocking as it may sound, terrorists of ALL religions (and no religion) have been known to practice deception. In short, his rant doesn't hold up to scrutiny. Personally, I'm glad to know Ali ElShaffar and am glad that he is a member of our community. More broadly, I believe our immigration policies should reflect American Values by being blind to color, race, nationality, or religion.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: February 15th, 2017 1:53 AM

and a first for blood stained Poland, a almost non violent over throw of a repressive government. I am sorry I missed it. Maybe the lesson of staying and fighting, and maybe losing your life is worth your home land. I am glad to some extent that is not an issue here.Yet.

Brian Slowiak  

Posted: February 15th, 2017 1:46 AM

Not all 53 Muslim countries, just the seven countries that were identified by President Obama. Part of the issue is the Islamic principle of kitman. When Muhammed Ali, was diagnosed with Parkinsons, his doctors had him do magic tricks to keep his hands and mind functioning. True to his religion, he could not deceive anyone, so after doing magic tricks for children he would show them how he performed the trick. Kitman, allows a follower of Islam to deceive even give up his religion if he or she feels persecuted and then is allowed back after their perceived persecution has ended. Some say the tenets of kitman don't apply in todays world. However, the 911 hijackers allowed themselves the use of prostitutes and to drink alcohol in order to blend in and deceive the world around them. So, a confirmed Islamist may say and do anything in order to live to fight another day.Do you think the Yemen Bureau of Investigation has a readily available fingerprint card system, up to date and with easy access? That Yemen Secretary of State, do you think their records are on computer as well as the Yemen Board of Education? My distant cousin Roman Baran came from Poland in 1976. He was a bricklayer. Stayed for about a year worked odd jobs saved a ton of cash. My mother cried when he had to go back to Poland. She never gave a thought to hiding him. It was against the law she said. After decades of communist religious persecution, came Lech Walesa, Carol Woitija, that's the Pope to all you lessors,

Stephen Gordon from River Forest  

Posted: February 14th, 2017 9:40 PM

Go on with yo bad self.

Facebook Connect

Answer Book 2019

To view the full print edition of the Wednesday Journal 2019 Answer Book, please click here.

Quick Links

Sign-up to get the latest news updates for Oak Park and River Forest.

MultimediaContact us
Submit Letter To The Editor
Place a Classified Ad

Classified Ad